ielts listening section how to practice to improve the scores

IELTS Listening – How to Practice to Improve Your Scores (Part 1 of 2)

Practice makes perfect. But, I was wrong when it came to IELTS Listening Test Prep.  Repeatedly taking IELTS Listening practice tests did not improve the IELTS score in the listening section.

Practicing for IELTS Listening Section is an art and it took me a while to realize that. But, that realization came in pretty late, when my scores in the Listening section did not improve after taking over 30 practice tests. But, I wasn’t going to let that stop me.

I’m sitting for IELTS for the second time in 4 years and this experience is going to help me write blog posts. Here’s my overall IELTS Test Experience – This Is How I Scored 9 In The IELTS Listening Section

Here are my previous IELTS scores:

  • Listening: 8.5
  • Reading: 8.0
  • Writing: 7.0
  • Speaking: 7.5

Here’s the latest IELTS Scores:

  • Listening: 9.0
  • Reading: 9.0
  • Writing: 6.5
  • Speaking: 8.5

Last time, I put in less than 8 hours of practice time to get the band score of 8.0 and this time, I really wanted to see what I got. And don’t ask me what went wrong in the writing section!

How to Practice for IELTS Test

I tracked every aspect of the IELTS practice tests. If you refer to my test prep tips and strategies, here’s what I have written in the past about preparing for standardized tests:

  • Be methodical with your Test Prep and Practice
  • Track variety of factors from and during the practice tests
  • Measure the factors over a period of time (or tests)
  • Track the values for each factor tracked

So, why do you want to track and measure?

  • If you can’t track, you can’t measure
  • If you can’t measure, you can’t improve

Content Summary for IELTS Practice Tests

  • Part 1: (This Article)
    • What data points to measure for IELTS Test Prep
    • Tools to Track the Data Points
  • Part 2:
    • How to Improve the IELTS Listening Score
    • How to Practice for IELTS Listening section to Improve

IELTS Listening Practice – What to Measure

Initially, when started taking the practice tests, I was making tracking the following data points:

  1. Practice Test Book and Test Number
  2. Number of incorrect questions
  3. IELTS Listening section Band Score out of 9.0

I knew I have to track more factors and I was going to know what those test prep factors would be after taking 3 to 4 practice tests in IELTS General Training.

Data Points to Track to Improve IELTS Listening Score

Here’s the complete list of data points I tracked in order to improve the IELTS Listening section score:

  1. Source of the Tests
  2. Time of the Practice Tests
  3. IELTS Listening section scores
  4. Number of incorrect questions
  5. Which accent did I find it difficult?
  6. What could I have done to get the answer right?
  7. Why I couldn’t or didn’t I select the right answer?
  8. Type of Listening section question that I got it wrong
  9. What was I thinking when I selected a specific choice?
  10. Did I select the right answer when retaking that section?

During first few days of the practicing for IELTS Listening section, I was doing my best with the knowledge of the test I had to collect the required data points.

Then, after few warm-up tests, I was looking for IELTS Listening section strategies from IELTS blogs, and Youtube videos. That’s when I realized that the advice given in blogs were generic and it did not apply specifically to me (or your specific needs).

I’m unique in my own way when it comes to the test prep when it comes to:

  • How I listened to the speakers
  • How I approach a specific type of question
  • What is the frame of my mindset when listening?
  • What should be my optimal concentration level?
  • How approach to different sections within the IELTS test?
  • How emotions does the specific question type invoke during the test?

After 4 to 5 days of practicing for IELTS Listening section using the generic tips and strategies, I knew that I need a device a custom-fit IELTS Test Prep strategy. I need to know the following:

  • What types of question do I struggle with?
  • Why am I struggling with the specific question type?
  • How do create a strategy to address the specific weakness?

Without addressing these problems, my scores would stay at 8 to 8.5.

And, that’s why I tracked several data points. I had collected data just to find the solution to my weakness within the IELTS Listening section.

Here’s what I found from my collecting various data points:

  • Scored consistently low in the tests taken right after the I got up (or before 10 AM)
  • Following question types in the IELTS listening section  was causing troubles:
    • Multiple Choice Questions
      1. Select between choices A, B or C
      2. Select two choices between 5 choices
      3. Match the sentence to a Summary
    • Complete the Map/Diagram
    • Work on English word spellings

Tools to Track the IELTS Test Progress

There’s good ole spreadsheet. But I came across AirTable and fell in love with it –  Air Table – It’s spreadsheet on steroids.

Here’s a snapshot from my tracker for the IELTS Listening Section.

IELTS Test Prep Listening Section Score Tracking

In total, I had 60 rows of data points to gather insights. After scoring your tests, you would feel the urge to move-on or take a break. Instead, spend 10 to 15 minutes to enter these data points.

  • Unforced Error – That’s what I wanted to address with Multiple choice questions. I just did not know what strategy will work for me yet.
    • Is it because I did not have the skills set?
    • Is it because I don’t know what to do?
  • Lost Focus – It was under my control. I just have to be an active listener to tackle this issue.
    • Is it because I was still concentrating on the previous question?
    • Is it because I lot my train of thoughts?
  • Word Count – They would specify No More than two words and I would have written in three words.
    • I just had to pay more attention before transferring the answers to answer sheet.

Tips: And also note down your thought process when you missed an answer. I should have included the mindset, but that was something I was keeping track internally.

Example sentences I would have written based on my experience:

  • I did not hear what the speaker said about this specific answer choice (Lost Focus)
  • I was focussing on the previous question and speaker moved to next question
  • I just thought that I can figure out the answer if I had one extra second and I may forget what speaker said when I come back later.
  • I just lost track completely with this question 24 to 30.

This leaves us with two important tips for IELTS Listening section:

  1. Tip 1: Make a note of every data point that you can think of that influences your IELTS Test score.
  2. Tip 2: Repeated attempts at practice tests without a dedicated effort to address weakness will not improve the scores

In the end, track everything. It helps to measure your progress. And here’s the link to AirTable to track your results.


  • Every test taker has a base level with IELTS Scoring
  • Track the data points affecting your IELTS Listening score
  • Identify your weakness in the IELTS Listening section
  • Create a plan for Practice Tests (what books and study materials)

In Part 2, we will discuss the following:

  • Learn to be an active listener
  • Practice being an active listener
  • Be methodical in tracking your practice tests
  • Work extra hard to improve the scores in weak question types
  • Pay close attention to how your concentration level stay in the test

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  1. Great Insights Raghu!! Thanks for sharing all this information. Can you also suggest good resources to prepare for IELTS General Exam overall ? Thanks

    1. You really don’t need any Prep book other than Cambridge IELTS Book series from 6 to 12 (13 will be published soon).

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